Sharing and Talking To Your Children About Their Beginnings
Years ago, your journey to parenthood was long and difficult, but now you have your beloved child. This child did not come into the world the way you anticipated, but with the help of a donor. Whether you used a sperm, egg, or embryo donor, it was through the grace of this person(s) that you have your wonderful child. And after much thought, you’ve decided this is the right time for your child to know about his/her beginnings. Perhaps you remember the meeting you had with the mental health professional to discuss issues related to third party reproduction, but it’s hard to remember everything you spoke about. So, let’s go over some things here.
Back then, it was really hard to imagine that this conversation could go well. That’s because it was so hard to imagine that there would BE a child, having been mired in sadness for so long. Now you have shared many wonderful years with this child, with innumerable bonding moments from first steps to staying up all night with colds and coughs. But still, there is a small part of you that fears the child will reject you once the use of a donor is revealed. While I certainly can’t guarantee that it won’t happen, it is highly unlikely that it will, given that you have been an appropriate, loving parent to date. Your child only knows you as the person(s) that have provided food, shelter, safety and love. You are the mom, you are the dad!
If you have told family members or friends that you used a donor, this conversation needs to take place earlier rather than later. Unintended slip ups from others can cause hurt, confusion, and a break in trust. Information delivered to your child should be age appropriate, and simple, with the recommended age of sharing information before pre-teen. When a child asks “where do babies come from”, this could be an opening to begin talking about different kinds of families. Ask them what kids of families they see (same sex parents, grandparents as primary caregivers, adopted children). This can lead nicely into talking about your specific kind of family.
Children’s first attachment is to their parents. As they age, peers become more important, and they begin the normal developmental arc of separation. Talking to your child is a process which will unfold with different content and more thoughtful questions as they age. Their questions about genetics may not fully form until they study biology or genetics in school. Encourage them to come to you with their questions. However, once they have their story, they may or may not decide to share it with someone. Telling your child that ‘this information is a secret’ implies it is something to be ashamed of, or perhaps there is something wrong with them. Most often, if this is said, the issue reverts back to the parent who may still need to come to terms with how their child came into the world. At this point in parenting, it is about holding your child up rather than protecting yourself.
You might want to use one of the many children’s books on talking as a guide (see my website under resources). Or you may want to make it more your own story, including fun facts about your pregnancy and how much you wanted a child, perhaps the name of the nice doctor that helped you, and that a nice lady gave you a part that helped you develop. The questions that follow, if there are any, will depend on the child’s age, maturity, and curiosity. You know your child best. Try to imagine before hand what questions might be asked and have some answers in your back pocket.
Having this conversation can be emotional for you. Most likely, you have had this moment in the back (or front) of your mind for a long time. It may bring up memories of what you went through, fear of possible rejection or a change in the relationship, or relief (or dread) that it is finally out in the open. Remember, your child does not carry the pain from the past that you do. He/she is happy to have you as the mom/dad! When you are talking, try your best to keep your emotions level and matter of fact. If
you begin to cry, perhaps you can explain them as tears of joy? Let the child know you are open to questions any time he/she has them. And your job will be to really be open. Questions don’t mean “I don’t love you”. They mean, “I’m trying to figure out who I am”. And, haven’t we all, at one time or other, asked that existential question, regardless of how we came into the world.
Need more guidance? Contact a mental health professional who specializes in infertility and third party reproduction.